Mitigating Underinvestment Through an IT-Enabled Organization Form

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Information technology (IT) enables a new refinement of the horizontal network organization. We show that IT can be applied to a hybrid form of market and hierarchy, franchising, and demonstrate how the resulting horizontal network organization can be an improved organization form. Specifically, we use IT-enabled "ownership of customers" to refine the horizontal network organization and show how that refinement can alleviate the problem of franchise underinvestment in traditional franchising. In traditional franchising each franchise under invests relative to investments in an integrated firm because the benefits that accrue to other franchises from its investment (horizontal externalities) are not accounted for in its investment decision. Ownership of customers is a combination of identifying individual customers with individual franchises, monitoring customer transactions across franchises, and transferring benefits between franchises based on those transactions. Because ownership of customers rewards franchises for the beneficial horizontal externalities generated by their investments, the levels of investment that are chosen by franchises may be increased, although not to the levels that would occur in an integrated firm. As long as IT costs are covered, the franchisor is always more profitable and, if necessary, the franchisor and franchisees can be jointly more profitable. Consequently, if profits can be redistributed in lump-sum form, then the franchisor and franchisees can be individually more profitable. The analysis applies to all horizontal organizations where ownership of customers is feasible and where there are sufficient transactions between units for ownership of customers to be worthwhile.
*INFORMS: unless published under the open access option, the publisher will provide a specific copy of the paper that can be posted to a web page is Publisher's copy deposited according to Publisher's Policy 05/25/2015
Network Organizations, Franchising, Organization Design, Horizontal Externalities
Nault, B.R., "Mitigating Underinvestment Through an IT-Enabled Organization Form," Organization Science, 8, 3 (May-June 1997), 223-234.